“Hidden emissions” need to be counted as countries move to be carbon neutral

The “hidden emissions” in Britain have grown significantly from 14 per cent in 1990 of overall carbon footprint to 46 per cent in 2019. If Britain intends to be carbon neutral by 2050, these hidden emissions need to be accounted for. Ben Webster explains in an article on The Times website.


Half of UK carbon emissions come from overseas

The UK has been less successful at cutting greenhouse gas emissions than the official record claims as nearly half our carbon footprint now comes from emissions released overseas to produce imported goods, a report has said.

Emissions from making products such as clothing, foods and electronics imported into the UK are counted in official statistics as the responsibility of the manufacturing country, not Britain.

These “hidden emissions” accounted for 46 per cent of the UK’s overall carbon footprint last year, according to the report by the University of Leeds. The proportion has grown rapidly from 14 per cent in 1990 partly because of the closure of some UK manufacturing and a shift to importing more of the energy-intensive goods consumed here.

Between 1990 and 2016 emissions within the UK’s borders fell by 41 per cent but the consumption-based footprint dropped by only 15 per cent, mainly due to imported goods and services.

The UK last year made a legally binding commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 but this target excludes emissions from producing imports.

The WWF, the conservation charity that commissioned the study, said the UK should work with others “to try and manage those shared emissions, reducing them and cleaning up our energy, food systems, transport and industry”.

Dr Stephen Cornelius, chief climate change adviser at the WWF, said: “Climate change is a global problem that needs a global solution. The UK has committed to net zero emissions and a credible plan to achieve this is one that tackles emissions based on what we consume, as well as what we produce.”

Professor John Barrett, from the University of Leeds, one of the study’s authors, said: “Increasingly, the impact of our consumption occurs outside the UK creating a situation where our emissions inside the country reduce while emissions associated with imports increase. It is essential that the UK commits to reducing its emissions both inside and outside the UK to adequately respond to the climate crisis.”

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